Indie Rockers the Thermals Take Over at T.T. the Bear’s

‘Adorable’ group of twenty-somethings talk lo-fi aesthetics, band chemistry and non-rock star ambitions

Roberta BEATRIZ A. camacho

Indie-rock group the Thermals' performance at T.T. the Bear's Place featured the vocal stylings of lead singer and songwriter HUTCH HARRIS and the guitar playing of BEN BARNETT.

“Cuddly, sexy and cute as hell” is how the Thermals describe themselves. And seriously, how can a group of four twenty-somethings who laugh heartily at the Simpsons, refer to their fellow opening act Circle and Square as “Circle and SquarePants” and swap children’s stories with gleeful abandon be anything but adorable? Guitarist Ben Barnett even sports a tattoo of a ridiculously cute purple rhino from the children’s story “Peanut Butter Rhino.”

The band stole the spotlight last Sunday at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Central Square, even outshining headliners Aberdeen with their peppy, no-frills indie rock. The music comes off as a labor of love created for the sole purpose of having a hell of a good time. Rain that night had kept the crowd small, but when the Thermals erupted onstage with the infectious “No Culture Icons,” they sparked the room with an intense and playful swagger that lasted the entire set.

The Thermals are just as fun to see live as they are to hear. Charismatic lead singer and songwriter Hutch Harris bounced like a pro and lent the band’s deliciously raw sound its greatest asset: his full, sassy and confident voice.

The Thermals formed around a rudimentary demo—which turned into the band’s debut, More Parts Per Million—that Harris recorded on a four-track in his house. At the time, he and his longtime friends Barnett, Kathy Foster (bass) and Jordan Hudson (drums) didn’t realize it would land them a three-album contract with Sub Pop.

“It was recording for the hell of it,” Harris said. “It got good results because there was no pressure at all for it to be anything. But that’s also why it’s rough. It was just about doing it really fast and having fun with it. No laboring over any of the parts.”

Its songs’ raw imperfections only add to the album’s charm. And as a lo-fi album, it stays true to the back-to-the basics rock ethic that the Thermals respect.

“If someone went and touched [the album], they would probably discover that everything that recording engineers have been geeking out over the last thirty years is complete bullshit. Lo-fi is just a really good connection between good songs and innovative recording, innovative in that it dismisses everything besides what’s totally necessary. Nobody does that anymore,” Barnett said.

“No-fi,” a term coined by the band, encapsulates their stripped-down approach.

“Even when it’s live it’s ‘no-fi,’” Harris said.

“When people use the term ‘no-fi’ they really need to send us a dollar,” Foster added.

The Thermals plan to keep their recordings lo-fi, but they might graduate to an eight-track for the next album. Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, who mixed More Parts Per Million, is already lined-up to record their sophomore effort.

“[Chris] made it clear that we are going to have to [record with him] if we want to stay friends,” Harris said amid laughs. “He’s really good. It never sounds over-produced. He gets you to a nice level where it’s real clear and crisp.”

No member of the Thermals is out of place. Each adds something unique to the band’s personality and sound. And this feeling of chemistry is a crucial aspect of the band’s identity.

“It’s the character. We all make up one character,” Foster said.

Confidence without pretension works well for the Thermals. They believe in what they do and they simply bring their passion and enjoyment across on stage and on record. Members work on other bands, but none feel as warm and cozy as the Thermals.

“Hutch did something for everybody,” Barnett said. “I know my music in my band is way more about me…the Thermals record takes care of you, it looks out for you. It’s about everybody. It’s one of the few things in my life I really have unwavering faith about.”

The band continue their U.S. tour until the third week of April and they say they are excited by the possibility of playing a show in Alaska. “I think the goal is to play all 50 states. Alaska would be one of the really hard ones,” Harris said.

A few of his other plans include “marriage for me, and children…some pets, one of those hairless cats.”

“That would be nice,” he said.

Hudson anticipates a royalty check of 13 cents in the near future and sets his sights on living large in 2009. In the meantime, he and the rest of the band will keep on delighting audiences with their cuddly and contagiously fun songs, ripe for adoration.